PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday April 26th, 2012, 5:35pm

Progressives Join Together Against Quinn Medicaid Cuts

Illinois progressives have started to speak out against Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed $2.7 billion in cuts to Medicaid.

Illinois progressives have started to speak out against Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed $2.7 billion in cuts to Medicaid.

The Responsible Budget Coalition, a group of research and advocacy groups across the state, announced their opposition to the cuts yesterday in Springfield. Also yesterday, the Campaign For Better Health Care, a statewide group, released a report with the Washington, D.C. based Families USA: The study finds that the cuts could equal 25,600 in lost jobs.

While backed by fairly powerful allies like the Illinois Hospital Association, progressives face a tough fight against cuts to the federal-state health care program for the poor, elderly, and disabled that serves about 2.7 million Illinois residents. There is bipartisan support for Medicaid savings in some shape or form that total $2.7 billion annually.

Health care advocates and analysts are quick to acknowledge both the dire state fiscal situation – Illinois could face a $34.8 billion backlog of unpaid bills by 2017, and that some planned cuts are good – like better verifying the eligibility of Medicaid patients.

“We understand the difficulties that the state is in,” says John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, headquartered in Chicago and part of the Responsible Budget Coalition. “We don’t think it’s fair or wise to cut Medicaid in ways that will hurt people unnecessarily.”

There are three components of Quinn’s plan, which the governor released last week: a $1 a pack increase in the cigarette tax, an across the board cut to Medicaid providers of $625 million, and 58 line item cuts that total up to $1.35 billion.

The $2.7 billion figure is reached by adding cuts to $675 million in expected revenue for the cigarette tax hike, a figure that includes a 50 percent federal match. Health care advocates mostly stand in support of the cigarette tax hike. “It is a responsible measure that would provide federal matching funds,” says Larry Joseph, the fiscal policy director for Voices for Illinois Children.

But cuts to providers could “jeopardize access to care” and “bear the brunt of costs” on hospitals, Joseph argues.

Physicians can legally deny Medicaid patients. So lower state reimbursements may cause some physicians to no longer care for people on Medicaid.

Hospitals, though, cannot legally deny patients. So less money from the state could lead to a number of collateral issues, including hospitals passing on the costs to all their patients, and also laying off staff. Many of the job losses projected in the Campaign for Better Health Care report would be borne on hospital staff.

The line item cuts include reductions in preventive care services like an Illinois Cares RX program for prescription drugs and also adult dental services. “Those people will just be in pain until they go into the emergency room,” Bouman argues.

Advocates have started to meet with state lawmakers to voice these concerns – the Illinois General Assembly is slated to approve a state budget for next fiscal year by May 31.

Jim Duffet, executive director for the Campaign for Better Health Care, states that he paid visits to “70 House and Senate members yesterday” and that their message focused on potential lost jobs, and also $3.1 billion in projected lost business activity.

One question progressives must answer from elected officials is how else the state can pay its backlog of bills, if not through some of these Medicaid cuts. There are a few partial solutions. One, for example, is the reversal of corporate tax breaks the state provided to companies like the CME Group, Inc., Sears Holding Corp., and Motrola Mobility. Another idea – broaden the sales tax base to include a range of purchases from legal services to massages and haircuts.

Duffet argues that the state can also save by making Medicaid much more efficient, like by a better coordination of care. Ultimately, though, Duffet says that his mission is to tell lawmakers that Medicaid cuts are more than numbers.

“It isn’t my job to tell them to how to find $2.7 billion,” Duffet says. “We are out there telling them what this means from a moral perspective and its economic impact.”

Image: AP

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